The Origin of Vertebrate Gills. Academic Article uri icon


  • Pharyngeal gills are a fundamental feature of the vertebrate body plan [1]. However, the evolutionary history of vertebrate gills has been the subject of a long-standing controversy [2-8]. It is thought that gills evolved independently in cyclostomes (jawless vertebrates-lampreys and hagfish) and gnathostomes (jawed vertebrates-cartilaginous and bony fishes), based on their distinct embryonic origins: the gills of cyclostomes derive from endoderm [9-12], while gnathostome gills were classically thought to derive from ectoderm [10, 13]. Here, we demonstrate by cell lineage tracing that the gills of a cartilaginous fish, the little skate (Leucoraja erinacea), are in fact endodermally derived. This finding supports the homology of gills in cyclostomes and gnathostomes, and a single origin of pharyngeal gills prior to the divergence of these two ancient vertebrate lineages.

publication date

  • March 6, 2017